As Thanksgiving approaches, many of us are gearing up for our favorite running day of the year. Even non-runners love the annual Turkey Trot where young and old alike jog in anticipation of the great feast ahead. Then you can eat all the turkey dinner you want AND have a second helping of dessert guilt-free. Okay, maybe that last part is just my tradition.
Unfortunately, I can’t run this year due to a back injury. Doctor’s orders.
As I’ve lamented and longed to run again, a new picture has emerged: Life as a race with hurdles and PR’s (personal records). Scripture says:
“Since we are surrounded by such a great group of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from wicked people, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1–3)
Step by step, here’s what encourages me:
1) We’re surrounded by a large group of people who have gathered to cheer us on––like the crowds on race day. We’re not alone. And we’re stronger together. Others are standing with us, praying for us, and willing to run alongside us when needed. It’s very apropos at Thanksgiving to say thank you to those who support us, to praise Jesus for those who surround us, and to reach out to others to ask for help. God’s plan entails US––WE are in this race together.
2) Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles: Individually we have a part to play in our training and our race days. And the first step is to offload everything that weighs us down, keeps us stuck, or gets us off track. Otherwise, our race of life will feel like the Boston marathon with a full military backpack. The word used here for “throw off” means to jettison something far away from you. Don’t just set your burdens and temptations down––jettison them and keep running!
3) Where do we run? God affirms that our race is marked out for us. This means we’re not running blindly or randomly. Jesus has put out mile markers so that we can continually stay on course. Again, we have a part to play in this race. Our part is to not give up… to keep going… to wake up each day and look to Jesus. And if we don’t know what to do next, perseverance means continuing to do the last thing we know aligns with His will.
4) Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. This is more than looking around for clues. It’s keeping our eyes locked on the One who waits at the finish line. Jesus has written us into His story. He provides opportunities for growth and success. He invites us to join the race as we grow in faith. However, it’s impossible to run a long distance in a straight line if you only look down at your feet, or if you’re fixated on the distractions around you. In order to get to each new milestone, we have to know the way. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).
5) Who for the joy set before Him… His joy is you. His joy is me. Jesus endured the pain, shame, and spiritual darkness of the cross in order to pave the way for you and me to spend eternal life with Him. He wants us to run this race joyfully in light of His love for us and His delight in sharing life ever after.
6) He sat down at the right hand of the throne of God: Jesus finished His race on earth. Unlike the priests of old whose work was never done, Jesus finished the work given to Him by God the Father. Completing His ultimate work of providing eternal salvation, He now invites each one of us to join His continuing mission through His Spirit. Jesus calls us to run the race of life wearing His jersey.
7) Consider Him… so you will not grow weary: When we’re tired or confused or distracted or defeated, our motivation to continue stands before us. He smiles and cheers and coaches us. Jesus is our greatest supporter and our greatest fan.
We all have a race to run. If only every day was like an early morning run when the bright sun reflects off a rising mist and the fresh air smells like fall. If you’ve ever experienced it, you know that nothing compares.
But for most of us, our days include challenges and obstacles. Setbacks and fears. The lure of distractions and temptations that lead us off course.
And for some of us, the path forward remains a mystery. Our run has slowed to a walk. Our clear course has eroded into a rough path in dark woods. We pray for a breakthrough to the other side of something––but we wait for the when, where, and what.
Friends, whatever race you’re in right now, take courage! You are not alone. Throw off your burdens and come to Jesus (Matthew 11:28). Believe that He places markers on your path. Talk with Him in prayer and ask for wisdom. Keep your eyes locked on Him, not on distractions and pitfalls. Trust Him as you take one step at a time. And know that I’m running alongside you in spirit, praying for you along the way.
This Thanksgiving, may we band together like a team of runners in Jesus jerseys. I pray your path in this season will be marked by delight and joy for the race of life we run together!